Dr. Gabriel Jamie has been awarded the Society for the Study of Evolution Presidents’ Award for Outstanding Dissertation Paper in the journal Evolution, for his paper, “Multimodal mimicry of hosts in a radiation of parasitic finches,” Evolution (2020) 74: 2526-2538.
In this paper, Dr. Gabriel Jamie and co-authors investigated host-specific multimodal mimicry by nestlings of brood-parasitic Vidua indigobirds and whydahs to assess their role in adaptation to novel hosts. The premise was that imprinting of parasitic nestlings on their hosts promotes the maintenance of specialized host-parasite associations over generations. This exposes lineages to consistent selection from host species that could allow host-specific nestling adaptations to evolve. Over four rainy seasons in Zambia, Dr. Jamie and his research assistants recorded aspects of nestling morphology and behavior, and developed a new methodology to quantify phenotypes. Remarkable matching was found in the patterns and colors of the parasitic nestlings and the nestlings of their different host species, whose diverse appearances can be seen in the cover photo of the issue (74:11). The team also found matching in the sounds and postural movements of the nestlings. This study shows that imprinting can lead to the evolution of host-specific mimetic adaptations that can generate pre- and post-zygotic isolation and contribute to sympatric speciation.